Talking Rocks
Week-long Tours in the Desert Southwest

Talking Rocks 2019, Fall Tour

Seven Days

October 27-November 3, 2019

(Note: this is a change from the first dates published.)

Death Valley National Park


Basin and Range Geology

Great blocks of the earth’s surface heaved up on edge, displaced thirty thousand feet in places, with valleys between the ridges filled with up to 20,000 feet of sediment. It is a grand, stupendous story, waiting to be read. The movement of the earth’s crust has created fantastic exposures of  “happenings” below the surface. We will be able to see–right in front of our eyes–faults and folds, cliffs sliding up! and gravity flows sliding down. Salt beds, limestone, lava flows, gold-bearing ore bodies, and stromatolites are all on display in the Death Valley region. It is a geologist’s paradise.

Willow Tank Thrust Sheet

There are places where thick layers of earth’s surface have been shoved up and over other layers. In Valley of Fire State Park, we will examine an example of this kind of shoving: the Willow Tank Thrust Sheet where Jurassic Aztec Sandstone has been heaved up over the Cretaceous Baseline Sandstone.

Fossil Water

We’ll visit Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge where pup fish thrive in a small oasis. Both the fish and the water are relics, remnants of another era when vast lakes populated richly with fish filled many of the valleys in Nevada. The oasis was nearly eliminated by ground water pumping before being stopped by environmental activists.


This tour will feature more rigorous hiking than our spring tours. The highlight will be the 14 mile hike to the top of Telescope Peak where we can look down directly to Badwater at -279 feet. The immensity of the vista from Telescope Peak strains one’s capacity for comprehension. Participants are welcome even if they cannot do the longer hikes, but the long hikes are a special feature of this tour.

Contemplation and Conversation

Given the grandeur and stupendous forces on display in the rocks of this region, it is easy to give oneself to contemplation. It is natural for conversation around the campfire to turn to grand themes. A particular source for spiritual pondering is the question of scale and meaning. Given the time it takes for a mountain to rise tens of thousands of feet out of the ground, what is the significance of a human life time? Given the vast, sweeping expanses open to our eyes here, how do we think about our place?


Our chef for this trip will be the legendary Robert Johnston. (At least he is legendary among those who have participated in prior Talking Rocks Tours.)


The tour begins and ends at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Plan to arrive by noon if possible on October 27. We will have you back to the airport by noon on November 3.

If you are driving to Las Vegas, contact John McLarty to make arrangements. If you are driving your own vehicle for the entire tour, you could join the tour at Valley of Fire State Park, our first campsite, and leave from Shoshone, where we’ll spend the final weekend.

The cost is $815 ($865 after September 15). This covers everything, local transportation, food, and entrance fees. You can reserve your spot with a deposit of $400. Mail a check to John McLarty, 2618 Thorndyke Ave W, Seattle, WA 98199 or use Zelle or Google Pay or other electronic means.

What to bring. Go here:



Below is a preliminary itinerary. Let it whet your appetite.

Gerry Bryant, our science director, has led tours in the Death Valley area for the University of Toronto for a number of years. In consultation with other professional geologists associated with the tour, he is continuing to refine the list of outcrops we will examine.

  1. Sunday. Arrive Las Vegas by 1p. The Tour will provide transportation from McCarran Airport to our first campsite at Valley of Fire State Park. There we’ll explore dino tracks near Atlatl Rock. Depending on time, we may also check out the Willow Tank Thrust Fault.
  2. Monday. Break camp and drive to Red Rock Canyon and the Keystone Fault. Stop at an amazing road cut. Visit a pup fish site in Shoshone. Sleep at SHEAR (Shoshone Education & Research Center)
  3. Tuesday. Dumont Dunes, Kingston Peak Megabreccia, China Ranch, Bad Water, Gower Gulch, Black Mountain Turtlebacks. Camp at Panamint Springs.
  4. Wednesday. Owens Lake and roadside geology. Camp at Panamint Springs.
  5. Thursday. Telescope Peak. 11,000 feet. 14 mi hike. Camp at Panamint Springs.
  6. Friday. Roadside Geology. Father Crowley Viewpoint. Sleep at SHEAR.
  7. Sabbath. Ash Meadows and environs. Sleep at SHEAR.
  8. Sunday. Las Vegas airport by noon.